Why we love our public school

January 27, 2014 · 12 comments

Did you have angst about where to send your child to school?

I did.

I read every article about education I could get my hands on, talked to every Montessori school in a ten-mile radius, considered the Waldorf school twenty miles away, picked the brains of friends whose children attended charter schools or were home schooled, and checked out at least five different homeschooling curricula.

I was about 97% certain my child would not attend the local public school, even though I made sure we bought a house in a good school district. I read the school’s handbook online and wasn’t impressed. It wasn’t progressive about education the way I wanted my son’s school to be. The curriculum, extracurricular activities, and special programs were all traditional. Although some of our neighbors and their children loved it and some didn’t, I was fairly certain it wasn’t the place for us.

Finding an alternative had barriers, though.

I loved the Waldorf school, but annual tuition was about a third of our household income. They said finances shouldn’t be a barrier to submitting an application, but . . . well, I laughed and laughed.  Even homeschooling through our local school district had significant costs associated with purchasing curriculum, collecting supplies, and my own learning curve to become a homeschooling teacher. And the closest charter schools that fit my education ideals was a 15 minute drive. (Not so bad until I multiplied it twice a day, five days a week. Two and a half hours in a car every week, just for school when something closer exists? Hmmmm.)

I talked to a Waldorf teacher to get her thoughts. I was certain she would tell me  to sacrifice whatever I needed to get my children the absolute best education I could, but her answer surprised me.

She asked about our alternative options, and our local school.

I told her it was walking distance, just a few minutes away through the park. The other children in our cul-de-sac and extended neighborhood attend there. I’d heard about the teachers were energetic, enthusiastic, and dedicated to both educating students and fostering a sense of community. And I also told her about the punishments and rewards, the testing, the homework, and the traditional views on “gifted” and “remedial” students.

Almost without hesitation, she said go to the local school.

Hunh.

The lessons learned from being part of a close-knit community, from the responsibility of walking to school, and from being exposed to different kinds of people from different backgrounds would be more valuable than the most progressive school that required us to stress our budget, take us far from home, and make us spend hours a week in the car.

So I enrolled my son in the public school and we attended the orientation. If he didn’t like it, we would homeshool. But he confidently shook the teacher’s hand, walked into the classroom, and told me with certainty this was where he wanted to go to school.

And so it was. He started the local public school. And was sent to the principal’s office twice in the first three weeks for fighting.

I was pretty sure we’d made a huge mistake.

This wasn’t the place for him or our family, with the daily “you tried your hardest” stickers and time outs (and trips to the principal’s office). I wanted to disenroll him  and start homeschooling, but something held me back. We decided to stick it out a few more weeks and see what happened.

It ended up surprising me.

I realized his acting out at school was caused by the conflict of my own dislike for many of the school practices. I realized if I wanted him to succeed, I would have to accept the culture while he was there, even if what we did at home was different. I had to trust he could excel there and retain the life lessons we taught him at home.

Once I backed off, he thrived. He made friends; he sings songs from class. Every day he comes home with a purple ticket (the ticket that says he tried his hardest, according to him). We don’t collect them or provide rewards for them, but he doesn’t mind at all. He wants to earn them. When he received his citizenship award he wouldn’t stop talking about how excited he was for a week. And he does the same when his friends receive theirs.

It still surprises me how well he does. I thought he wouldn’t be happy unless I created the ideal learning environment for him with natural toys and unstructured play. Yet, he excels.

Whether it’s the dedication of the teachers, or the morning walk that clears his head, or the sense of community he has, we were pleasantly surprised that the “mainstream” education ended up being the place we love the most.

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